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Review: The Wonga Coup by Adam Roberts

June 1, 2012

Wonga Coup coverTitle: The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs, and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa
Author: Roberts, Adam
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Publisher / Year: Public Affairs / 2007
Source: BookDepository
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: I’d not heard about this coup, but enjoy learning about the instability caused by oil.
Date Read: 16/04/12

History sometimes repeats itself in the most bizarre ways. In 1974 British novelist Frederick Forsyth wrote The Dogs of War, a best-selling novel about a coup in Western Africa. Although it was assumed to be fiction, documents prove that Forsyth may have been a major financier of an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea and the novel was based on that failed event. Thirty years later, another British backed group would try again. This book tells the story of Simon Mann and his attempt to pull off a coup in March, 2004 in Equatorial Guinea.

Through this book Roberts gives us a bit of background on Equatorial Guinea and the involvement of European and North American governments and international firms there. This provides the backdrop explaining how a ruthless dictator could have held on to power for so long, the bribes paid by the multi-national companies, and the attempts by locals to meddle. In addition, he talks about the history of mercenary armies on the African continent and the danger of having so many men with that background and little current job prospects. These mercenary soldiers are available for the largely European and British leaders to hire for hare-brained schemes such as the one described in this book.

It is hard to believe the audacity it would take to believe you could successfully overthrow a government, even if it is a dictatorship, and get away with it, especially in 2004. And then to openly interview with Roberts about the events and their plans is even more ridiculous. One of the more important parts of the book for me was the background of these men and what they thought they would get out of this event – largely money, much of it coming from oil. In so many cases in history oil has proven a curse that impedes development and encourages corruption. I always find it educational to read more about how this happens.

A well-researched book that covers an extraordinary event in history of which little is known. Roberts also includes a list of source documents and a bibliography for those interested in researching more on this event. If you enjoy reading about history, corruption, mercenaries, or coups, do give this book a try.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Joseph permalink
    June 1, 2012 8:44 am

    We so rarely hear about these events. Here in the United there is such a blind spot for Sub-Saharan African current events. I also agree, the fact that theses coups are still being attempted in the 21st century is amazing.

    • June 10, 2012 9:31 pm

      I find it so amazing that they are still happening… but yes even more so that we don’t even hear of them Brian! Thanks for your comment.

  2. June 1, 2012 10:14 am

    I’m soooo reading this! A remember seeing the movie version of The Dogs of War years ago when i was a kid. I don’t know a lot about E.G. but from what little I know it sounds almost surreal. A number of years ago I read a New Yorker article about the place and I remember being quite fascinated by what I’d read.

    • June 10, 2012 9:31 pm

      Ooohhh I didn’t know there was a movie too, I’ll have to add that to my list too now Mark! It’s such a crazy situation / story isn’t it?

  3. June 1, 2012 10:51 am

    Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the successful and failed coups in Ghana starting from the late 1960s. This stuff is really wild. I may check this out.

    • June 10, 2012 9:33 pm

      That sounds like really interesting reading NinaG, any particular book you might recommend on the subject?

      • June 11, 2012 12:10 am

        I’ve only been reading old newspapers but I’m planning to read the current VP’s memoir “My First Coup D’Etat
        And Other True Stories from the Lost Decade of Africa”

      • June 11, 2012 8:57 am

        Thanks NinaG, old newspapers can be fascinating can’t they? I’m going to have to look up that book too.

  4. June 1, 2012 1:36 pm

    A fine review, Amy, as usual. I read the Dogs of War way back in secondary or high school, but I never knew that Frederick Forsyth may have funded a coup in Africa. Simon Mann and Margaret Thatcher’s son shocked me with their dare devil scheme when the news erupted years ago. indeed, the motivation is money and oil money at that. Foreign governement will continue to interfere in internal politics of african countries so long as we in africa allow them to. I could go on and on, Amy, but basically, if we cannot unite as africans, the western governments will always foster political destabilisation through the Simon Manns of this world. I know, more issues are involved here, poverty, illiteracy, geo-politicl-economic balance of power and all that. But that is my take. Thank you for sharing. I apologise if I’ve gone off tangeant. Celestine

    • June 10, 2012 9:35 pm

      I appreciate your comment and any tangents that may be involved Celestine! Adds a lot of value to the conversation here I think :) Such a great point that money and oil money are the causes – really, corporate takeovers and ‘structural adjustment’ have all been, in many cases, ways for Western governments (either directly or via corporations) to gain or buy control too. It happens so often we just don’t always see it for what it is because it is via back channels, it seems. Foreign governments just never seem to stop do they??

  5. June 1, 2012 2:49 pm

    Yes, oil is as much a curse as it is a blessing. This book sounds interesting.

    • June 10, 2012 9:35 pm

      Always seems that way doesn’t it Kathy? Thanks for the comment.

  6. Marian permalink
    June 1, 2012 3:04 pm

    Thanks for reviewing this. It’s definitely going on my to read list.

    • June 10, 2012 9:35 pm

      You are most welcome Marian, I hope that you enjoy it.

      • Adam Roberts permalink
        September 20, 2012 4:41 am

        Dear Amy, I just stumbled on to your kind review of my book, The Wonga Coup. Many thanks for reading and discussing it. You may be interested to know that a British/South African film company has a script for a movie to be made of the book. And some of the same mercenary characters involved in the Wonga Coup reportedly turned up in Libya, last year, during Gaddafi’s last days, apparently trying to get him out of the country. Best wishes, Adam

      • September 29, 2012 10:07 am

        Thank you very much for the comment Adam. I am definitely interested to hear that it is going to be made into a movie! I’m disappointed… but ultimately not surprised that the same characters are popping up in more recent events.

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